I think and blather a lot about technology so I should probably put some effort into defining what I’m going on about all the time.
My definition of technology is pretty broad and pretty much encompasses tool use, calculation and language. In general practice, a technology is anything besides your body or things your body creates without you telling it, or your natural senses, that you use to interact with your environment. A stick or a rock is technology with the right intent and skill, though it’s right on the edge of just being a long claw or fang in animal terms. There’s a continuum. Knowledge of how to reliably start fires or grow crops is definitely technology. Water vessels and shoes are technology. Language and communication is debatably a technology when used to organize and refine complex hunting maneuvers or construction. Writing language down requires and\or is a technology.
Technology is just functional knowledge, but technology is so powerful because a tool or process can embody knowledge that the user doesn’t need to grasp as completely as was necessary to create the tool or process. Technology is a shortcut to the power of knowledge that makes it more easily transferable and preservable.
Human civilization has been dependent on technology from the beginning. I think technology is actually what defines and enables all civilization, with the critical minimum technology being language.
I’d argue human’s dependence on technology started earlier than that, in pre-civilization when the largest groups were still mostly small, genetically connected tribes. To make that point I like to imagine a week in a life without any technology. That means naked, no blade, no shoes, no canteen, no fire. You’re basically foraging within a few miles of available fresh water. Of course this is hard to even imagine because it feels like our instinct would be to sharpen a stick or hollow out a gourd first thing, but I said no technology. I think it’s fair to say without technology, humans are literally animals. But that also just means that humans are an animal that are perfectly suited to utilize the things I’m calling technology to advance its survival. Of course that’s anthropic, but what isn’t?
So what’s this got to do with humans being cyborgs, you ask? Admittedly nothing except that I’m making it about that, because I think there’s actually some semi valid reasoning to it, and it sounds good and I think it makes a more vivid point about humanity’s relationship to technology.
I don’t care what anyone says the definition of cyborg is right now. It’s a new enough word and doesn’t really have much in the way of definitive examples, mostly just sci-fi concepts of what a cyborg might be, so I think the definition is still up for grabs, so I’m grabbing.
The notion of integrating technology into the human body is not new, but nobody calls Captain Hook a cyborg, or someone with a cosmetic piercing for that matter. It feels like it needs to be digital or robotic. But then again I don’t know that anyone would argue with a steampunk cyborg, but steampunk gets away with a lot so maybe that’s more about steampunk. But also we never really know if the apparently ‘digital’ technology is really digital, or positonic, or some silicone analog of a spiking neural network so it’s really just an aesthetic association with ‘digital’ technology.
Doesn’t seem to have to be human either, I think we’re all good with a cyborg dog, monkey, or even shark, in theory of course- should go without saying but don’t anybody make cyborg sharks.
The aesthetic preference is that the technology be literally implanted in the body and visible enough to provide visually interesting juxtaposition between biological and technological components, but functionally it seems like a cyborg just has to have a biological base structure that incorporates technology to enable and enhance survival.
So a cyborg is a creature that depends on technology for survival. That also describes humans. So, like the title said- humans have always been cyborgs. Q.E.D. Or more like I decided the words I’m using mean what I’m using them to mean to make a point. So Ipso Facto because I said so.
But if I’m proposing this as a definition of cyborg, seems like I need to look around and see what else it might apply to.
I think it does have to be a survival necessity. As in- literally can’t live without using some kind of technology for a whole day. A clever crow or ape might demonstrate a clear use of technology by the definition I’m using, but it obviously doesn’t need to. Most other animals we’re aware of using anything resembling tools do so for a clear advantage, but in almost every case identical members of their species tend to do okay without the behavior or tool.
Though nest building animals and harvester ants in particular might fit this definition of cyborg too. Not sure what that does for my point, but I’m okay with ants being fellow cyborgs, we could learn a lot from them.
Birds and beavers I’m not so sure I want to include because their nests aren’t always a daily survival necessity. But it is clearly a necessity for long term survival and reproduction, so maybe there needs to be a continuum of cyborg-ness. The most obvious relevant value seems to be durability without technology. So let’s say the metric of cyborgness is: 1-(T\S) with S being an average lifespan in a given environment and T being the average survival time without any use of technology. Of course this then becomes environmentally dependent, but we can use ‘natural conditions’ as a baseline to make comparisons across species.
So a snail’s cyborness value might be 1-(10days/10days), or 0, same as a lizard or a sloth. They live and die without ever using any kind of technology.
A human would be something like 1- .01y/100, 0.9999 cyborg.
Interestingly by this metric a toy poodles cyborgness might be .9, a healthy mutt might be .4, and a husky might be pretty much 0, even though they’re the same species. Though I guess that depends a lot on what you consider each of these breeds ‘natural environment’.
Also that’s kind of stupid because dogs didn’t invent the technology they ‘use’, so that probably has to be included in the distinction. But then again a lot of humans are more consumers of technology than users of it, but we have to draw a line somewhere and species seems pretty obvious so yeah- has to be a technology created by the species, so forget about the dog thing.
Of course the more individual the metric the less meaningful it becomes. Someone who completes an advanced wilderness survival course may bring their cyborgness metric down to to .9991, but then fall into a coma and it jumps to .9e-100 or whatever. Weird example, but it sets up how this same weirdness might have some meaning for humans if we ever start existing in environments beyond Earth. Though at that point we’ll be comparing exponents. A human on Earth may have a .99999 cyborgness score on average, but an Apollo astronaut was briefly .9e-10000 something.
So what’s the point? I guess it feels important to get humans used to the idea that we’re already cyborgs and always have been. There’s no need to freak out about technology taking over your life if you realize it started out that way for our entire civilization. That gives us more time to focus on freaking out about how to optimize technology for our benefit before it kills all of us or just makes life unbearable with or without technology.
Also there’s a point that someone in an uncontacted tribe that will never read this is still within just a few negative exponents of the guy on life support on the cyborgness scale, so let’s all just get past any generalized anti-technology sentiment. We can be specifically against some kinds or uses of technology for specific reasons, but if you’re really all that anti-technology you’d be naked hanging out by a stream eating bugs, or more likely just dead.
We’re going to have to get even more cozy with our dependence on technology if we want to do anything interesting beyond Earth, and even if we just want to keep doing interesting things here for more than another few hundred years.
The good news and the bad news is that resistance is not at all futile. Human’s defiance of their dependence on technology can and almost certainly will prevail. But then again if you think about what that means, then resistance is back to being pretty futile. So I’m saying let’s accept that we are the borg, resistance is futile, but if we’re smart and careful we can design our borg suits to be removable and not have all the eye socket hardware so we can still get naked and swim in a stream and eat bugs when the mood strikes us. Though eventually that will all be simulated by a data feed directly to your neural cortex floating in a nutrient bath, but let’s take it one step at a time.